U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 08/14/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. This week marks the anniversary of the flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Five years ago, then Secretary of State John Kerry presided over a ceremony to mark the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

We invite you all to listen to the second episode of the newly launched 90 Miles Podcast. This week’s episode is hosted by CDA friend Collin Laverty and features an interview with Marta Deus, co-founder of the Havana delivery service Mandao and analysis by Amb. Jeffrey DeLaurentis. Check it out here!

Be sure to check out Alien Cuba’s new line of t-shirts called “Solo es cuestión de amor” (it’s only a matter of love) celebrating LGBTQ+ pride. Profits from t-shirt sales will be used to support 11M Cuba, an online community which focuses on the rights, public policies, social initiatives, and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba.

We’ll be taking a break from our news blast for the next couple of weeks and will resume on September 4 to deliver the latest Cuba news and analysis to your inbox.

For the past few weeks we have been featuring Cuban and Cuban-American economists and engagement advocates in our news blast. This week we interviewed Adriana Heredia Sánchez, a Cuban economist and professor at the University of Havana. Adriana is also an entrepreneur and is co-founder and CEO of Havana-based business Beyond Roots.

Before this week’s news, an interview with Adriana Heredia Sánchez

CDA: How would you describe your business, Beyond Roots? What inspired you to create Beyond Roots?

Adriana: Beyond Roots is an enterprise focused on promoting Afro-Cuban culture from different perspectives. We work in three main ways: organizing educational experiences where visitors are immersed in Afro-Cuban culture, managing the first and only Afro-style store in Cuba which sells everything from hair care products to accessories to clothing items, and organizing educational events promoting love and respect for Afro-Cuban traditions.

We founded Beyond Roots in 2016 in a context marked by the increase in the arrival of tourists to the island, mainly from the United States. We identified that people who came from the U.S. were interested in learning about the culture of the country they visit, as well as achieving a true connection with its people. This motivated us to do something different. We are from a community where Afro-Cuban traditions are deeply rooted, and we decided to show the world the importance of these traditions for us and how they are an indissoluble part of Cuban identity. This is how the idea of starting to offer experiences on Afro-Cuban culture with the support of our community of neighbors arose. What began as the dream of two people, today has become the commitment of 35.

CDA: How do you partner with other Afro-Cuban/Black businesses and organizations in Cuba/around the world? How would you like to expand Beyond Roots in the future?

Adriana: Our development as a business has been largely driven by the alliances we have managed to establish. From the beginning, many American travel agencies which wanted to show their clients Cuba’s connection to African culture as an Afro-diasporic country began to be interested in our work and decided to choose Beyond Roots as their partner in Cuba for this purpose. Our value proposition was just what they were looking for. In Cuba, we have had a similar experience. Since the store opened we began to weave together a whole network that connects a growing number of projects, businesses, and organizations that also advocate to defend and highlight the African heritage on the island.

In the future, we hope to expand our field of action to the entire island, not only in relation to tourist experiences but also expanding the store. However, the current situation the world is going through has led to an abrupt reduction in tourism, as well as the interruption of supply chains, and Cuba has not been oblivious to this reality which is further exacerbated by the intensification of U.S. sanctions against the island. This has forced us to completely rethink our business model which is highly dependent on American tourism. That is why we are working on the launch of an online sales platform of our Afro t-shirts in order to maintain the connection with the community that follows and supports us from the United States. If they can’t come to us, then we’ll go to them.

To continue reading the full interview with Adriana Heredia Sánchez, visit the “In Cuba” section. 

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 558 positive COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Yesterday, Cuba recorded one death, bringing its total deaths since March to 89. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…


U.S. barring private charter flights to Cuba

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it will be suspending private charter flights from the U.S. to Cuba effective October 13, Reuters reports. The decision was made with the goal of increasing economic pressure on Cuba. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted “The Castro regime uses tourism and travel funds to finance its abuses and interference in Venezuela. Dictators cannot be allowed to benefit from U.S. travel.” Public charter flights to and from Havana will continue to operate. Authorized charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other travel in the U.S. interest will also be allowed. The Trump administration has previously restricted other forms of travel, including people-to-people education travel and ending commercial and public charter flights to all cities except Havana

What Kamala Harris thinks about Florida issues: Cuba, disaster funding and the AIDS epidemic

On Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris, the junior senator from California, will be his running mate, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Last year, Sen. Harris responded to a Tampa Bay Times survey asking questions about Florida-specific issues, including Cuba policy. Asked whether she would continue or end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Sen. Harris’ staff responded “Senator Harris believes we should end the failed trade embargo and take a smarter approach that empowers Cuban civil society and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and freely determine their own future.”

Shortly after the official announcement, a group of Cuban-American Biden supporters, Cubanos con Biden, reacted positively to Sen. Harris’ nomination. They tweeted that reason number 84 out of 90 that Cubans should vote for Democrats in November is because Sen. Harris is the daughter of immigrants and she is an Afro-Caribbean and Asian-American woman who understands the challenges of the immigrant community in the U.S. Democrats in Florida, a critical swing state. Fernand Amandi, a Democratic strategist and pollster from Miami, stated “Kamala Harris has no baggage with Hispanic voters [in Florida].” Sen. Harris was a co-sponsor of the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act which would prohibit U.S. citizens from being restricted from traveling to Cuba in 2017 and most recently in 2019 .

Latin American governments move to scuttle Trump’s pick for international development bank

Diplomats from Latin America and the European Union are calling for a delayed vote for the next Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) president, which is currently scheduled for September 12-13, the LA Times reports. Mr. Claver-Carone, the Cuban-American Senior Director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was nominated by President Trump in June for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank Group. If his nomination is approved, he would be breaking with a 60-year tradition as the first president of the IDB who is not from Latin America. The nomination raises concerns for some about the role of the IDB moving forward, especially if Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is elected in November.

Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, and the European Union have publicly urged for a delay in the election by postponing the September annual assembly indefinitely. According to the LA Times, Canada also opposes the nomination, though not publicly. Some believe that if the vote is not postponed, many countries would elect to not attend the meeting, possibly depriving the IDB of the necessary quorum to hold a vote. Costa Rica’s Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs stated they will continue to promote their candidate, former Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. In an op-ed published in numerous Latin American countries, Mr. Claver-Carone wrote “My candidacy for the IDB presidency breaks with history, presents a commitment from the United States to the region, and offers a new approach that seeks to strengthen the bank’s role.”

In addition to representing a break with tradition, Mr. Claver-Carone’s nomination is also controversial because of his role in shaping ideological policies in the National Security Council. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) published a statement where he pointed to Mr. Claver-Carone’s frequent use of sanctions as tools for U.S. policy toward Latin American countries, calling him the “wrong nominee” and stating there are qualified Latin American candidates who the U.S. would support, instead. Additionally, Sen. Leahy stated that electing Mr. Claver-Carone to a five-year term shortly before the U.S. presidential election in November “…would not bode well for United States support for the Bank in the coming years.” Last month, Cuban-American Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) released a statement in support of Mr. Claver-Carone’s nomination, where he stated that while he has not always agreed with Mr. Claver-Carone’s policies, but “I recognize his consistent commitment to advancing U.S. national security, our foreign policy interests, and an agenda of shared priorities with our partners in the hemisphere.”


Continued: Interview with Adriana Heredia Sánchez

CDA: How will the recently announced economic reforms impact your business? What effects do you predict that eliminating the “too restrictive” private-sector activities list will have in the economy? What additional actions would you recommend to policymakers in order to support the growth of the non-state sector? 

Adriana: The recently announced new economic strategy has been suggested by academics, researchers and entrepreneurs for many years. Although these announcements are extremely encouraging, it is still too early to tell what the real impact will be on the development of Beyond Roots, as it is unknown how this strategy will be implemented. Definitely the recognition of micro, small and medium-sized companies in the private sector in Cuba, the opening of wholesale markets, the possibility of [private businesses] importing and exporting, as well as the suppression of the list of authorized activities are the reforms that will have the greatest impact. It is expected that the high degree of uncertainty with which private businesses currently operate in Cuba will be reduced.  Also, an environment conducive to developing scalable business models with a greater economic impact would be created, allowing us to take advantage of the high level of training of the workforce in Cuba.

The success of the reform will depend on its completeness. In a general sense, progress must be systemic and coherent, which does not mean that everything has to be done at once, but rather that stages and priorities must be defined. The reform also implies the design of a credit policy consistent with the needs of these economic actors. Similarly, fiscal policy must be rethought starting from aligning it with purchasing power and the economy’s real price level. It is not a question of denying the importance and relevance of tax collection but rather of adjusting it to the real conditions prevailing in the country. It is a process that involves analyzing the problem from different angles in order to generate integrative solutions.

CDA: Cuban economists and sociologists have found inequalities in the labor force along racial and gender lines. Racial inequalities are visible in different ways, including a greater number of white workers in advantageous sectors (tourism, joint ventures), the predominance of Blacks and mestizos in industry and construction labor in the state sector, and greater numbers of white people in management positions. Gender gaps were found in three main areas: the underrepresentation of women in the skilled labor force, fewer women in management positions, and the asymmetric distribution of power in the leadership of the productive processes. What has been your experience as an Afro-Cuban woman entrepreneur?

Adriana: My biggest challenge was not so much associated with the color of my skin but with the fact of being a young woman from the academic world wanting to develop a completely different business model in a community where few people decide to pursue their university studies. When we founded Beyond Roots I was only 23 years old and I had to work hard to earn the respect of my team and convince them that despite my limited experience I was very clear about where we had to move forward.

There were many men who wanted to teach me lessons about how to really do business because in their minds I was a little girl who, coming from the university, lived in a world completely removed from the “harsh reality of Cubans”. And it was precisely from those supposed weaknesses through which I decided to show them my worth. I am young and that is why I have a fresher vision of what we can build. I come from an academic background and that makes it much easier for me to organize the processes and design the strategies that have allowed us to scale the business in such a short period of time. I am a woman, and I can do exactly the same as men and on many occasions, even much more. I am Black and that is why I have decided to build, with infinite passion, a project that aims to make our history visible.

CDA: How has U.S.-Cuba policy impacted Beyond Roots since its foundation? How do you predict current U.S.-Cuba policy could affect this new set of economic reforms?

Adriana: U.S. policy towards Cuba is a critical element for the development of Beyond Roots, since our business, like many others on the island, is highly dependent on American tourism. The thawing of relations between the two nations allowed people like me, who had never seen themselves as entrepreneurs, to decide to follow this path given all the opportunities we saw.

In this way, the intensification of sanctions against Cuba has been a severe blow to us. I always say that the main obstacle facing Beyond Roots is the high level of uncertainty with which we operate. Although this level of uncertainty is also determined by the restrictions present in the Cuban regulatory framework, in practice the most worrying element is the travel bans against the island. We have been operating for years in a restrictive legal domestic context, yet we have still been able to get ahead and scale our venture. Part of being an entrepreneur is seeking creative solutions and dealing with difficulties, but without clients it is difficult to see how to do it since these are the core of a business model. That is why, without a change in U.S. policy, we will not be able to take advantage of the full potential that unfolds for Cuban entrepreneurs in the face of the new economic reforms.

Cuba reports record number of COVID-19 cases; Havana goes back into lockdown to contain COVID-19 outbreak

On Monday, Cuba reported a record number of 93 COVID-19 cases, Reuters reports. Most of the cases are in Havana and Artemisa provinces, which are limiting access to individuals from other provinces. Cases have also been surging in the eastern province of Pinar del Río and the central provinces of Matanzas and Villa Clara. Havana closed restaurants, bars, and pools, suspended public transportation, and banned access to the beach. In July, Havana entered phase one of the country’s three phase reopening plan but cases have since begun to surge. Some of the new cases are connected to Cuban healthcare workers returning to the island from Venezuela. Only Cuban citizens and foreigners with Cuban residency can enter the island and José Martí International Airport in Havana remains closed to commercial flights. President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated on Wednesday that the surge in cases may affect school reopening plans in Havana and Artemisa. Cuba currently has 588 cases.

Cuban molecular biologist and researcher at the University of the State of Sao Paulo (UNESP) Amilcar Pérez Riverol pointed out that Cuba cannot use the same strategies to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in Havana as it does in smaller provinces because of the capital’s larger and more concentrated population. Mr. Pérez Riverol also emphasized that all provinces except Havana reopened after 15-30 days with zero new cases, whereas when Havana entered phase one of the country’s three-phase plan of reopening it never reached more than five days with one or no new cases. He states that this is not necessarily the reason for the new resurgence in cases, stating that instead it is because many have “confused non-confinement with normality” which partially explains the resurgence of cases. The new outbreaks were caused by private parties, religious celebrations, bars, work environments, and areas near beaches which Havana visitors frequent.

Online stores in Cuba: a single purchase per day

CIMEX, Cuba’s largest commercial corporation, announced that customers will be limited to one online purchase per day, OnCuba News reports. In June, CIMEX opened online stores which sell food and cleaning supplies packages for 10 to 30 CUC. The new regulation published on the Cubadebate site states that a user may make only one purchase per day through the bank account registered for payment on the website. The same bank account may not be used by other users on the same day, even if the second user lives in different provinces or would like to make purchases at a different store. This regulation was implemented to ensure greater access to goods and to prevent hoarding and reselling of goods. Cuba’s government has taken steps to prevent hoarders from purchasing large numbers of goods and later reselling them at higher prices in the midst of the country’s economic crisis.


Cuba could produce Russian COVID-19 vaccine; Cuba’s top epidemiologist expects COVID-19 vaccine in 2021; Cuba develops own vaccine and negotiates with Russia [Spanish]

Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, stated that Cuba may begin producing the Russian COVID-19 vaccine in November, OnCuba News reports. On Tuesday, Russia announced the registration of the first COVID-19 vaccine and in a press conference Mr. Dmitriev stated that because of Cuba’s “excellent capabilities to manufacture vaccines” they may become one of the key manufacturers. In a news brief on Wednesday, Francisco Durán, Director of Epidemiology in the Ministry of Public Health, did not comment on the Russian vaccine stating that “I continue to think that a vaccine will be available to the world and us as part of it from 2021, during 2021, likely in the first months,” noting an episode of the government’s televised official channel of communication, La Mesa Redonda, would speak more about this. Director Durán  also noted “There are people who say that sometimes I’m a bit pessimistic, but it’s not that I am pessimistic, but you have to be realistic.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated he “seriously doubts” the Russian vaccine is safe and effective for widespread use.

Cuba is developing four different COVID-19 vaccines and one of them has advanced to clinical trials. Cuba has an extensive vaccine production capacity since it currently produces 80 percent of the vaccines it uses in its National Immunization Program. José Moya, director of the Pan-American Health Organization expressed in an interview that he would not be surprised if Cuba managed to create an effective vaccine.


Raising the American flag in Cuba again, Travis Olsen, Orlando Sentinel

In this opinion piece, Travis Olsen, who served in the U.S. Interests Section and the U.S. Embassy in Havana from 2015-2018, argues that the Cuba of today is not the one of the 1960s or 1990s. Mr. Olsen was at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when the American Flag was raised for the first time in over 50 years. He writes that Cuba has been changing, and still is, but whereas under President Obama the U.S. had “a seat at the table” we currently do not. He argues that like Cuban citizens, the U.S. “must also capitalize on this moment” and that this fall we should elect officials at all levels of government who recognize that Cuba has changed, want to support engagement and support the Cuban people.

Latin America must reject Trump’s attempt to leave his mark on the region’s crucial development bank,Christopher Sabatini, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, Christopher Sabatini outlines how the nomination of Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Cuban-American, to become the new president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) breaks with 60 years of tradition. The article emphasizes that Claver-Carone was nominated based on his ties to South Florida Republicans and not his merit. Mr. Sabatini also suggests that only a Latin American president will support initiatives on topics of environmental sustainability, climate change, racial equity, and economic recovery following the pandemic.

Biden right to oppose Trump choice to head Latin America development bank — but for the wrong reason, Andres Oppenheimer, the Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Andres Oppenheimer discusses Mauricio Claver-Carone’s nomination to become president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and shares an official statement from Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Muñoz which says “Trump’s nominee for the Inter-American Development Bank is like most of his appointees: overly ideological, under qualified and hunting for a new job after November.” Mr. Muñoz also shared that the Biden campaign believes this is especially concerning since Latin America is in the midst of an economic crisis and will need the IDB’s support to recover. Mr. Oppenheimer argues that unlike those in Congress who oppose Mr. Claver-Carone’s nomination because of his hardline approach to Cuba and Venezuela, he believes it would be beneficial to have another figure pressure both governments to have free and fair elections. Instead, Mr. Oppenheimer argues that the IDB election, scheduled for September, should be postponed because the bank will become a “political battleground” between Democrats and Republicans, especially if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected in November. Mr. Oppenheimer writes that a gridlock between Democrats and Republicans would paralyze the bank and prevent it from aiding the region when it most desperately needs U.S. funding to cope with the COVID-19 and economic crises it faces.

[Content Warning: Domestic violence, abuse, femicide] The pit of femicides in Cuba, Ailynn Torres Santana, Claudia Rafaela Ortiz Alba, and Liudmila Morales Alfonso, CubaOne News

In this opinion piece, Ailynn Torres Santana, Claudia Rafaela Ortiz Alba, and Liudmila Morales Alfonso tell the story of Marta and Lorena, mother and daughter, who were killed by Marta’s partner, Reinaldo, in an act of femicide. The authors define a murder as femicide if “in the act an imbalance of power is evidenced because she is identified as subordinate for her condition of being a woman and for no other reason.” They also write that femicide is not classified as a crime in Cuba and provide various statistics about femicide, though data about it is limited in Cuba. In a 2019 report on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, researchers identified that 0.99 femicides are committed for every 100,000 women ages 15 and older in Cuba.

Coronavirus Victories May Not Be Enough for Cuba,James Bloodworth, Foreign Policy

In this essay, James Bloodworth argues that Cuba’s healthcare system and authoritarian governance model have helped the country control the spread of COVID-19. Mr. Bloodworth also claims that while the public health strategy has been successful, it has been unable to tackle the massive economic crisis. The COVID-19 crisis appears to be a moment of opportunity for Cuba to reform its economic model, but it is difficult to predict what the effects of reforms will be, especially as the world heads into a global recession.

Cuba is getting a crash course in internet culture — and it’s changing everything, Cassandra Brooklyn,Digital Trends

According to Cassandra Brooklyn, a digital and cultural shift is occurring in Cuba. Until a few years ago, Cubans had limited access to Wi-Fi and largely spent their time off social media. Now, the expansion of internet coverage in Cuba is changing the way Cubans connect and interact with one another. In this article, Ms. Brooklyn discusses how the internet in Cuba has become more accessible in recent years, who it is accessible for, what the consequences of more screen time have been, and how some are resistant to Cuba’s growing internet culture.

Havana, the ‘Paris of the Caribbean,’ gets its own Eiffel Tower, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Often described as the “Paris of the Caribbean” due to its beautiful architecture, arts scene, and nightlife, Havana now has its own 13 foot replica of the Eiffel Tower constructed by Cuban blacksmith Jorge Enrique Salgado, Reuters reports. Salgado was inspired to construct the replica when his son asked him to make a Wi-Fi antenna. Though he has never been to Paris, Salgado plans to scale-down his passion project and sell smaller replicas.

Cuba: Castro vs the World review – a triumph of historical illumination, Lucy Mangan, The Guardian

In this review of BBC Two’s two-part documentary series, Cuba: Castro vs. the World, Lucy Mangan calls the series a “cogent, accessible and… fascinating primer on the subject.” The BBC Two series, produced by Norma Percy, begins with Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution when he and Che Guevara took power from Fulgencio Batista. The two episodes trace Fidel Castro’s leadership over the decades, including during the Special Period of the 1990s, the massive waves of migration of Cubans to South Florida, the normalization of relations under President Obama, and ends with the swift reversal of those policies under President Trump. Cuba: Castro vs. the World may be accessed on BBC Two’s website.

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